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House defense bill benefits MacDill

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Published:   |   Updated: May 22, 2014 at 06:43 PM

A 1.8 percent pay increase for service members, an increase in funding and authorities for U.S. Special Operations Command, fixing black mold problems at MacDill Air Force Base and money for the next round of replacements for the aging KC-135 refueling tanker jets are among provisions in the next defense spending act passed by the House of Representatives, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

The bill also addresses the issue of sexual assaults in the military.

The Senate still has to pass its version and a compromise measure must be sent to the White House.

“The Tampa Bay community is committed to men and women in uniform and their families,” Castor said in a media release. The spending measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act that passed today “not only supports our troops, but continues our commitment to the missions and personnel at MacDill.”

The bill passed the House by a vote of 325-98 and includes “a much deserved pay increase for military personnel,” according to Castor.

It also includes sexual assault provisions that were included in the previous three defense policy laws.

“Our response to sexual assault in the military can and should be much stronger,” Castor said. “I hope that in the U.S. Senate, my colleagues will listen to the voices of people like Sen. Gillibrand to strengthen the sexual assault provisions.”

In the bill, Socom, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, was given a base operating budget of $7.6 billion. The base budget for the current year is about $6.9 billion, according to Socom spokesman Ken McGraw.

In a move that “recognizes the importance of Special Operations now and in the future, the bill also “extends critical counter-terrorism authorities necessary for Special Operations Forces to combat terrorism,” according to Castor.

“Socom has grown in importance as the threats to our national security have evolved and critical missions involving al-Qaida and other terrorist networks have become paramount to our defense strategy,” Castor said. “As America’s Special Forces role continues to grow, so too will MacDill’s strategic importance.”

Castor’s office did not return phone calls seeking an explanation of what those authorites are. Socom officials did not know.

The bill authorizes the next phase in replacement of KC-135 tankers with new KC-46 aerial refueling tankers. Castor, who helped spearhead the “MacDill Means Mobility” effort and is working with other members of the Tampa Bay Congressional Delegation, as well as local elected and business leaders, to “champion MacDill as an ideal base for future new tankers and the relocation of older KC-135s.”

In March, Castor announced the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposed 2015 budget included plans to add eight refueling tanker aircraft, attendant jobs and infrastructure to the base.

In addition, Castor said she added an amendment to the bill requiring a report to Congress on the prevalence of black mold in buildings located on military installations like the Military Support Facility at MacDill. Buildings identified as containing black mold will be added to the construction priority list for building replacement or renovations. The bipartisan amendment was cosponsored by Rep. Richard Nugent(R-FL).

“I am concerned that black mold on the first floor of the Mission Support Facility located at MacDill is not being addressed in a timely fashion,” said Castor. The amendment requires the Pentagon “to review and address facilities with black mold to protect the health of military personnel on base and save in repair costs,” Castor said. “I am pleased that my amendment was accepted so we can begin to tackle this issue and raise awareness on the potential for an improved Mission Support facility that serves base personnel, military retirees and local business contractors.”

Officials from MacDill who deal with that issue were not available late Thursday afternoon, said Terry Montrose, a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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